Op-Ed | How moving can make a difference in our political landscape

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Your future house can help determine the future House. Consider the promise of this simple premise. If you’re moving, move where your vote matters – and shape the trajectory of our nation. Appealing, but can it work?

“Americans are increasingly fracturing as a people,” announced the New York Times recently, “and some are taking the extraordinary step of moving to escape a political or social climate they abhor.” This observation may help us to understand our broken politics – because fracturing enables more extreme, compromise-averse officials to gain traction – but it’s not really news that’s fit to print. After all, twenty years ago, Bill Bishop was already describing Americans’ practice of sorting themselves into alarmingly homogeneous communities, “the big sort.”

Yet, one recent Axios survey finding does demand our attention: more than a quarter of adults, 27%, said they were likely to move to a state where their voice and vote may have a large impact, like a swing state. Now, that is promising and newsworthy. Furthermore, a majority of Americans, 54%, say they are likely to move if their state passed laws that negatively affected them. In short, people are prepared to move from states where they feel threatened and move to states where their voice will be heard. Our democracy will be made stronger because a critical mass of Americans are likely to move to a place where their votes can make a difference, where their ballot box choices can influence the direction taken by our nation – which means moving to purple places, not deep red or blue ones.

Can movers really make a political difference? The answer is a resounding yes. But precisely where these movers move makes all the difference.

Approximately 30 million Americans move every year. (The most common reason? Housing.) Roughly, seven million of the movers are registered Democrats. If just one-tenth of one percent of those seven million simply add “the value of my vote” to their existing move priorities (yes, movers can have their cake and eat it too), that means 7,000 additional registered Democrats moving into toss-up districts every year. And those toss-up districts are highly desirable places to live.

Seven thousand may not sound like a lot, but consider this remarkable statistic: control of the House of Representatives in 2022 turned on a grand total of 6,675 votes. That was the combined margin in the five closest House races, which determined who held the Speaker’s gavel. And what do we know about these five? Well, in the most nail-biter House race of all, an extremist Republican won by a mere 546 votes out of 327,132 total votes cast. How’s that for close?

It’s no wonder that, as the Cook Political Report notes, “[o]n an exceedingly narrow battlefield, both parties are scrounging for every advantage they can get.” The “knife’s edge race for House control” turns on two dozen toss-up districts.

For progressives, the stakes are particularly high. The Republicans’ slim majority in the House has given ultra-conservative lawmakers disproportionate influence, as the defenestration of the last House Speaker and the belated coronation of the current House Speaker made clear. The result has been that House Republicans continue to pursue legislation that fails to represent the views of a vast majority of voters on issues like reproductive rights, guns and climate change, including the views of some of their own constituents.  

And for those “scrounging for every advantage”, New York presents an unique opportunity. After all, in 2022, Democrats in New York lost four seats in the House of Representatives by fewer than 10,000 votes each (the closest by fewer than 2,000 votes) and held onto another seat by just a few thousand votes. Even after the district lines are redrawn (yet again), the vast majority of the geography that makes up today’s toss-up districts (in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island) will still be battleground territory, where every single vote counts. So, if just a small percentage of Democratic voters moving to the New York area choose one of the wonderful communities in our toss-up districts, they will play a key role in potentially flipping the House.  

Jamelle Bouie recently mused, “[t]he one thing that might get the Republican Party back on the rails is a major and unanticipated shift in the structure of American politics that forces it to adapt to new voters, new constituencies and new conditions. It’s hard to imagine what that might be.” 

We actually don’t think it’s hard to imagine. Your future house can help determine the future House. Simple, no?

Charles Simon and Heather Weston are the co-founders of MoveIndigo, which helps Democratic voters who are moving to discover desirable communities where their votes matter.